Saturday, April 08, 2006

They've Got *Some* Nerve!: TV Journos Caught In Compromising Position With VNRs

With all the squaking that's done by some journalists about how awful it is for "citizen journalists" to be able to post whatever sorts of video they want, imagine how *fabulous* I felt when I came across this report: Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed, issued by the Center for Media and Democracy:
Over a ten-month period, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) documented television newsrooms' use of 36 video news releases (VNRs)—a small sample of the thousands produced each year. CMD identified 77 television stations, from those in the largest to the smallest markets, that aired these VNRs or related satellite media tours (SMTs) in 98 separate instances, without disclosure to viewers. Collectively, these 77 stations reach more than half of the U.S. population. The VNRs and SMTs whose broadcast CMD documented were produced by three broadcast PR firms for 49 different clients, including General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One. In each case, these 77 television stations actively disguised the sponsored content to make it appear to be their own reporting. In almost all cases, stations failed to balance the clients' messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research. More than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety.

TV news is supposed to be produced along the same lines as print journalism. It's supposed to be fact-checked, and it's supposed to be balanced....oh, I must be living in pollyanna-land again...

This is so much worse than the Wal-Mart bloggers who were merely opportunistic dumb-asses. This is a serious ethical breech committed by people who believe themselves to be higher on the food chain than the average opportunisitc dumbass.

As a matter of fact, this puts them on the level of what would politely be called abusers of the public trust, and would also be called, in colloquial terms, major scumbags.

Now, I can hear the excuses--that budgetary concerns causes them use VNRs with impunity. When local TV news programs start at 5pm and run until 6:30, I guess the filler has to come from *somewhere*

But, given that so many 77 stations that use VNRs with impunity are are
...not limited to small-town stations with shoestring budgets. Nearly two-thirds of the VNRs that CMD tracked were aired by stations in a Top 50 Nielsen market area, such as Detroit, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. Thirteen VNRs were broadcast in the ten largest markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston.

I'm sure we can draw a small conclusion that the reason they use VNRs without disclosure doesn't have as much to do with economic necessity as they'd like us to believe.

The reason why, though, the stations felt no particular need to disclose that they were broadcasting what amounts to infomercials is beyond me. As I've said before regardless of who you are, if you're going to use a p/r piece, let people know you're using a p/r piece.

Makes me wonder, too, if these particular major scumbags are going to say that they're "protecting sources" by not diclosing VNRs? I wonder if they'll say "oh, we wouldn have found the same information some other place"? I wonder if they'll admit to simply being lazy asses looking for a kickback (a distinct possibility.)

And if it's such a financial burden for local news programs to fill their hour and a half of time with programming that upholds journalistic standards, why don't they simply cut their blathering back about an hour or so? Why don't they just have the same 20 minutes as the bightime broadcast news programs?

Or why can't we simply have more re-runs of bad old made for tv movies like we used to when I was a kid? I'm sure that Lifetime, Oxygen, and AMC haven't bought up *all* those bits of tv ticky tacky.

At least when we watched those, we knew for sure that everything was fake.

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